Jack Goldstein (1945-2003)
A SUITE OF NINE 7-INCH RECORDS WITH SOUND EFFECTS (1976)
1. A GERMAN SHEPHERD (45 rpm, red vinyl)
2. TWO WRESTLING CATS (45 rpm, yellow vinyl)
3. THE TORNADO (45 rpm, purple vinyl)
4. A FASTER RUN (45 rpm, orange vinyl)
5. A SWIM AGAINST THE TIDE (45 rpm, blue vinyl)
6. THREE FELLED TREES (45rpm, green vinyl)
7. THE DYING WIND (45 rpm, clear vinyl)
8. THE BURNING FOREST (45 rpm, red and white vinyl)
9. THE LOST OCEAN LINER (45rpm, black vinyl)
THE PLANETS, A SUITE OF SIX 10-INCH RECORDS (MUSIC), 1984
1. Disc 1, Side A
2. Disc 1, Side B
3. Disc 2, Side A
4. Disc 2, Side B
5. Disc 3, Side A
6. Disc 3, Side B
7. Disc 4, Side A
8. Disc 4, Side B
9. Disc 5, Side A
10. Disc 5, Side B
11. Disc 6, Side A
12. Disc 6, Side B
INDIVIDUALLY RELEASED RECORDS
1. THE UNKNOWN DIMENSION
1977, LP 33 1/3 rpm, 12"
black vinyl with silver label on side two (music)
2. THE MURDER
1977, LP 33 1/3 rpm, 12"
black vinyl wih red label on side two (music)
3. THE QUIVERING EARTH
1977, LP 33 1/3 rpm, 12"
white vinyl with an uncropped edge around the record that is painted silver (sound effects)
4. "The Weep", 1978. (excerpt 2:21)
THE PLANETS: six 10" LPs. New York: Neutral Records 7, 1985, Courtesy of Nancy Laufer
THE WEEP from Audio By Visual Artists, TELLUS 21
A SUITE OF NINE 7-INCH RECORDS WITH SOUND EFFECTS (1976): Courtesy of Jay Sanders
Vanishing act: Chrissie Iles on Jack Goldstein. (Passages).(Obituary)
ArtForum, May, 2003, by Chrissie Iles
"I AM ALWAYS DISAPPEARING in my performances--it's strange how personal my work is."
Just as a serious assessment of the '80s is beginning, one of the period's most important and neglected figures has slipped from our grasp. The long-term significance of Jack Goldstein's artistic achievement is only now becoming evident. In his life and work, Jack, who committed suicide in San Bernardino in March at the age of fifty-seven, articulated the profound anxiety dominating an era of spectacle, as the open-ended Conceptual practices that characterized the '70s gave way to an appropriation-based return to narrative imagemaking. His films, 45 rpm records, paintings, text pieces, and performances formed a hinge between the end of one decade and the beginning of another, articulating elements of both while refusing to be contained by either.
Throughout his life, Jack's uncompromising directness was both disarming and precise. One of his last projects, Jack Goldstein and the Ca/Arts Mafia, is a memoir written with Richard Hertz and including contributions by a group of Jack's friends that reads like a who's who of the '80s art world (the book is slated for publication by Hertz's Minnesota Press this month). In it, Jack wonders where the refinement in his work could have come from. Perhaps, he conjectures, "it came from my father's military uniform, which was impeccable; everything lined up. You could see your face in his shoes. Maybe there is some sensibility I got from that. Whatever medium I work in, I always want a wonderful surface."
This desire for perfection was nurtured by his early training, from 1966 to 1970, at Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, where the teaching emphasized craftsmanship and a thorough knowledge of materials and the faculty included several retired Disney animators. It was here that Jack came across the Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader and recognized early a difference between his own work and the prevailing performative climate. Reflecting on the fateful transatlantic boat trip from which Ader never returned, Jack observed that "the difference between Bas Jan and me is that I wouldn't have to take that boat trip; a flyer would have been enough.... I would have treated it as pure theater."
This approach to such Conceptual matters was developed at California Institute of the Arts, the legendary school established by Walt Disney in 1961. The period Jack spent at CalArts "changed the course of (his] life." It was there, under the tutelage of John Baldessari, that a group of students including Jack, David Salle, Troy Brauntuch, Matt Mullican, Robert Longo, Barbara Bloom, and James Welling emerged. Baldessari termed his teaching "post-studio" and encouraged the use of Super-8 cameras, photographic equipment, and the surrounding popular culture in his students' work. The new teaching philosophy, not to mention the college's proximity to Hollywood, provided a logical context for Jack's embrace of pictorial objectification.
Baldessari remembers being impressed by the uncompromising rigor of a performance by Jack in which he buried himself in the ground, his heartbeat measured by a stethoscope connected to his chest and amplified. "What a terror being buried like that must have induced. Jack said he was trying to give up something organic to make a symbolic statement." The core of Jack's thinking was already evident.It was during his CalArts period that Jack met Helene Winer, then director of Pomona College Art Gallery and later a cofounder of Metro Pictures. She gave him his first solo show, in 1971, encouraged his move to New York, and played a central role in his life. Jack and Helene's move to New York in 1974, and Helene's appointment as director of Artists Space, marked the beginning of one of his most prolific and creative periods. Traveling between New York and Los Angeles, he made numerous short color films, records, and performance pieces, hiring Hollywood animators, trained animals, and special-effects experts to create singular, highly polished, tightly constructed statements that shifted the image from thought to object and back again.
I first heard of the importance of Jack's films and records from Dan Graham, who was particularly insistent on the records, citing Two Wrestling Cats, 1976. When I tried to imagine the sound two wrestling felines would make, an image of two cats rolling on the floor came to mind--which was exactly what Jack had intended. In an interview with Morgan Fisher in 1977, he explained that, for him, sounds were pictures: "I arrive at a sound through an image."
The sounds in Jack's records were images he had wanted to make into films. The physical presence and color of each record was important. A sound recording of a tornado was rendered in purple vinyl, for example, since he observed that purple was the color of tornadoes when photographed. Mullican remembers a visit he and Jack made to a Jannis Kounellis show at Sonnabend Gallery in 1974. The white cube had been painted bright yellow, and a real black horse stood against the wall. Jack was struck by Kounellis's objectification of the horse, which echoed his own concern with controlling animals and natural forces in pared-down, objectified images, as he did in films such as Shane, 1976, in which a German shepherd, set against an uninflected black background, barked repeatedly on command.
In 1978, RoseLee Goldberg showed Jack's twenty-six-second film The Jump at The Kitchen. A rotoscopically animated high diver jumps repeatedly into midair against a purplish black background, in a glittering shower of light. The film, projected onto a red wall, creates what Douglas Crimp has described as a psychologization of the image, in which an action becomes a picture based on association and memory, repetition producing a kind of erasure.
That same year, Crimp's group show "Pictures," which had opened at Artists Space, traveled to Los Angeles. The Southern California installment included The Pull, 1976, a work by Jack based on three photographs--images of an astronaut, a deep-sea diver, and a free-falling man in the act of committing suicide. The soaring movement of a body falling through space in both Pull and Jump underlined Jack's preoccupation with death, impending doom, and disappearance.
AFTER 1980, Jack increasingly focused his energies on painting. From the first year of the decade onward, he made scores of works with pristine, air-brushed surfaces, all capturing moments of catastrophe and natural occurrences of great drama: a lightning storm, a burning house, an eclipse of the sun, World War II fighter jets searing across the sky, a volcano erupting. As the world became preoccupied with spectacle, Jack's paintings seemed to express its apocalyptic consequences, constructing what Jean Fisher described as "an intensely ethical enquiry into the nature of the image and its relation to questions of subjectivity."At one point, seven assistants worked with Jack to produce his immaculate canvases, which were built up from layers of sanded gesso, with spray paint applied at the end. As with his films and performances, he directed the work, shifting the emphasis from "making" to "producing." In retrospect, this body of work turns out to be some of the most significant painting to emerge from the '80s.
In 1992, Jack left New York and disappeared. His absence created a mythology around him that persisted even after he emerged from the shadows three years ago to begin working with gallerists Brian Butler at 1301PE in Los Angeles and Daniel Buchholz in Cologne. Presentations of his films at 1301PE and by Buchholz at the 2001. Basel art fair, the rehanging of the "Pictures" show at Artists Space that same year, and a retrospective at Le Magasin in Grenoble in 2002 all served to rekindle enthusiasm for his work, the prescience, radicality, and power of which were becoming increasingly evident. Art historian Eric de Bruyn and I had unsuccessfully tried to find Jack in 1999 so that we might include his work in our Whitney survey "Flashing into the Shadows: The Artist's Film in America, 1966-76." In 2002 I finally presented his performance films, the color films, and The Jump in a solo show at the museum that included a restaging of his 1979 performance Two Boxers.
Jack returned to New York for the first time in a decade for the show and performance. I was pleased he had decided to come. It was a hard thing for him to do. He had no idea how he would be received and was very wary. When he emerged out of the sea of arriving passengers at the airport, the first thing I noticed was his strong physical presence. I could see how charismatic he was. As I got to know him, I was struck by the contrast between the protective kindness he showed me and the childlike anxiety with which he negotiated the world. Like Graham, he was sharply perceptive about people and unforgivingly honest.
In September, I saw Jack in Los Angeles. It was his birthday, and he was in a good mood. Jack, Brian Butler, and I sat in a local diner eating pancakes and talking about the film he was finishing, Under Water Sea Fantasy (begun in 1983), which I had committed to show, sight unseen. I had absolute faith in his work. When I went to see him again two months later, he was standing beside a huge pile of bound Xerox books on the table in the 1301PE gallery office. He was restless, and without saying hello he began to talk animatedly about the eighteen volumes in front of us, which he had just completed. I sat down and began reading.
Each page contained three sentences taken from literary and philosophical sources. Numerous quotes, from Plato and Kant to Freud and Kafka, were interwoven into a conceptual encyclopedia. In each block of writing, the first quote was in capital letters, the second lowercase, and the third bold. The intense labor of the project was astonishing. (The work will be published next year by the gallery in a small edition under the title Selected Writings, 1992-2002.) It was as though the deep thinking that had always lain invisible beneath the sheen of the perfect surface had finally been exposed. As with all of Jack's work, the distance of intellectual appropriation belied a personal, emotional intensity. I wanted to read it all. I told myself that I would show this too. That was the last time I saw Jack.Jack died just as the war in Iraq began. Watching it unfold on TV, I thought of his comment to art historian Michael Newman in 1981: "In the next war, we're going to have anchormen in all the places where the action is and we are going to see it right away. They are going to frame it for us, show us the angles that we should see." "So," Newman suggested, "the world itself becomes art, becomes a spectacle." "Exactly," Jack replied.
When Newman asked Jack why he was so preoccupied with death, he replied that it was "an anxiety in the culture. Everything is so arbitrary. That's what's so interesting about technology....It' s trying to do away with that which is arbitrary." The attempt to control the ultimate arbitrary act, death, is epitomized in an aphorism of Jack's from the late '70s, which James Welling recalls him reciting: "The man committing suicide controls the moment of his death by executing a back flip."